This year's Los Angeles Film Festival opened Wednesday with the local premiere of Bong Joon-ho's post-apocalyptic action movie "Snowpiercer" and will close Thursday with Clint Eastwood's adaptation of the musical "Jersey Boys." That kind of unexpected breadth is in some measure the work of Stephanie Allain, in her third year as festival director.
Allain began her career on the studio side, supervising projects such as "Boyz N the Hood" and "El Mariachi." Since branching into producing, she has been involved with films such as "Muppets From Space" and "Hustle & Flow." Before her position with LAFF, Allain has also been deeply involved with the festival's parent organization, Film Independent. Highlighting the multiple hats she wears, the comedy "Dear White People," which Allain executive produced, is having its gala L.A. premiere on Wednesday.
The festival is always at the mercy of what's out there, the inventory of films available to you. So is it like starting over from scratch year after year? Does it get any easier?
It does get easier, because it always comes together. It doesn't feel like that when you're at deadline and a month out, when things tend to get a little hectic. But there's different phases. And it doesn't stop until I do the final welcome for "Jersey Boys," and then I'm like, "Oh, God, yes." It's crazy, this is a year-round job and then it comes on so fast and it's over and it's really, really over. When you make a movie, you do all the prep stuff and you shoot it and it's over, but it's never really over, then you have to post and test and release. Here is like, boom, it's over.
It seems like you've focused on events outside just showing films, whether it be panels or in-depth conversations with one artist, musical events or participatory outdoor screenings. Is that to get away from being so dependent on the year's crop of festival films?
This is true. But I love the films. It's really funny, I'm so excited for these filmmakers to sell their films. Even more than when I have a film for sale. When we were at Sundance with "Dear White People," we were there to sell that film. And there's so much on that and it feels so personal. But here I have a distance on it, I don't have any of the worry, because it's really not me, so it's just pure hope. I'm so excited to give them this platform. It's like Christmas.
And the events apart from the films?
As a filmmaker, I understand the contributions of all these key positions, a costume designer or a composer. And just as a filmmaker I feel we really have the opportunity to shine a light on these artists, give them a platform to explore and explain what they do in their process. And you know, people don't often sit down and say, "How do I write a story, what's my process?" You just do it. So for them, what I've discovered, people participating come away with a greater understanding of their process and what they do. That's very satisfying. I remember the first master class we did with Danny Elfman, and I feel like I came away with such a deeper understanding of what music does, to scenes, to characters, and I use that stuff now.
I love the idea that a big part of what we do at the Los Angeles Film Festival is to bring to the public what we do year-round at Film Independent. You say "education" and people treat it like a dirty word, but it really is education and entertainment at the same time. If we lift up these artists and our audiences so everybody walks away with a deeper understanding and a better appreciation of what it takes to make the magic, that's pretty cool. And because we're in L.A., the well is so diverse and so deep. We never run out of people to shine a light on.
"Diversity" is a word that comes up a lot around the programs of Film Independent. What does diversity mean to you, and how do you enact that in the festival and as a filmmaker?
I think diversity is the same thing as a unique point of view. I started as a reader and then I became a studio exec. "Boyz N the Hood" was my first movie, and I remember when I read that script what I recognized in that didn't have to do with my being black, it had to do with a specific story. And that really made an impression on me, I realized the power of having unique voices, what that can do.
I was at a studio making "Last Action Hero," all the big movies, and I managed to curl up in my corner and churn out these small, unique stories, and the power of that just really stuck with me. So diversity for me isn't necessarily black or Latino or Chinese American, it's just personal. It's really about a personal story that can be on the screen so that many people can really engage with that story. That's where the barriers start to melt, when you make a human connection with somebody who doesn't look like you, who doesn't live where you live. That can change everything.
What would you have done if your programming staff didn't like "Dear White People," the film in the festival you executive produced?
Well, they did, so that was good. But I'm the [festival] director so I can say, 'I think we need to play this film.' That's the beauty of being the boss. But then if people don't come, I probably won't exercise that authority again. But I didn't have any hesitation about it. I just felt like that was a no-brainer. I wanted that movie here.